Time for that weekly stroll down the muddy, unsubstantiated trail into the world of Alaska political rumors and gossip.
Just 27 days left in the regular session.
The Senate Finance Committee took testimony on Sen. Mia Costello’s Senate Bill 127, a bill that’s an all-out repeal of the 2016 criminal justice reform bill Senate Bill 91. At the end of the day, you might understand why Senate Judiciary Committee chair Sen. John Coghill (who authored Senate Bill 91) might not wanted it to be brought up.
During testimony, testifiers in support of Senate Bill 127 included at least two people who made outright racist comments directed at Alaska Natives, with Anchorage business owner Shawn Williams telling the committee that “Hearing Alaska Native groups and the special-interest groups testify today … disgusts me.”
A fair number of other testifiers also talked frequently about “taking the law into our own hands.”
Many people actually testified against Senate Bill 127, making for a surprisingly more balanced hearing than we expected. The testimony included many people in long-time recovery from substance abuse who many of the provisions in Senate Bill 91 have allowed them to access the sort of treatment they needed to change long-ingrained bad and illegal behavior.
Judging by the testimony, Senate Bill 91 has become Alaska’s Obamacare.
It really seemed like almost nothing else was going on in the capitol during the hearings from what we’ve heard. It sounds like almost every television in the building was tuned into the hearing (though most televisions are almost exclusively tuned into Gavel regardless of what’s on) and people were eagerly tuned into the hearing to see Sen. Mia Costello squirm under pretty tough questioning from the committee.
Sen. Natasha von Imhof gave Costello the toughest questioning of the hearing, asking Costello and staff to explain how the bill would impact crime (they couldn’t) and asking what the point of bringing up the bill was beyond making a campaign point (they couldn’t).
Other committee members seemed to be playing nicer throughout the hearing, noting that there was probably some sort of middle ground to be found in the bill. Though at one point, Sen. Anna MacKinnon pointed out that because Senate Bill 127 was a complete repeal of Senate Bill 91 it would actually soften penalties on some crimes and eliminate protections for victims of crime.
Word was also going around that Costello did provide a powerpoint presentation for the meeting, but it was late so it didn’t get included.
If we had to sum up the presentation on the bill, it seemed like a book report where no one had read the book.
- Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Anchorage, seemed to take issue with Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth’s claim that cuts have made it more difficult to prosecute crimes. The prosecution rate for rapes hadn’t significantly dropped, MacKinnon said, so she wasn’t really buying Lindemuth’s assertions (for the record, Lindemuth has said that the prosecution of misdemeanors–you know, the sort of crimes that has Anchorage residents particularly up in arms–are way down).
- MacKinnon also refused to let the department heads talk at all about the financial impact of repealing criminal justice reform, saying that Alaskans simply don’t care about the financial cost of safety.
- Friend-of-the-blog and man behind The Alaska Landmine Jeff Landfield also testified against Senate Bill 127.
A real crime bill
Senate Bill 127–as it is–won’t pass the session this year, but we’re hearing talk of another miniature omnibus crime bill in the works. It’ll likely deal with the pretrial risk assessment tool that’s featured so heavily in the headlines recently and the drug classification powers for the Alaska attorney general. It sounds like it might be added on to one of the many background check bills working their way through the Legislature.
‘If you’re like me’
Republican candidate for governor Scott Hawkins put a shotgun slug through the first 500-pages of the United States tax code in a video posted to Facebook. In it, he says “If you’re like me, you’re writing a big ol’ check to the government.” The thing is, most Alaskans aren’t like him and even fewer can afford to put $200,000 into their campaign.
We looked up the tax return data from the IRS and found that more than 80 percent of people filing personal income taxes in Alaska receive a refund from the government at this time of year. Alaskans filed 345,844 personal income tax filings in 2017 and received 276,887 returns.
No love for Wool
Bar-owning Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, has pledged that dispute around whether or not distilleries can serve cocktails will be addressed one way or another in an omnibus alcohol rewrite that has yet to even emerge from the Senate (SB 76). At least that’s his explanation for why the House has yet to take up House Bill 269, a one-page bill that seeks to settle the issue.
Ursa Major Distilling, the distillery across the street from Wool’s Blue Loon, didn’t take the story lightly and published a blistering reply to its Facebook page:
“He has lied to several of your faces when you called him, and he continues to skew the truth in order to limit what he sees as competition to his business. I hope everyone remembers this when he’s up for re-election next time around. He has sat on HB269 for more than two months, all the while making excuses and spinning the issue in order to save face.”
The thing is not even distillery owners are asking for the fix to be included in Senate Bill 76 as most everyone thinks that injecting such a high-stakes issues into the bill could mean its doom. Senate Bill 76 is one of those complicated, by-consensus bills negotiated between the CHARR industry group and everyone else, and a last-minute change could mean a last-minute defeat.
Distilleries got a reprieve from the distillery rule last month thanks to the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office’s ineptitude in failing to properly notice the regulations in the first place.
Distillery and brewery owners can also breathe easier with the alcohol rewrite after a Senate committee axed a portion of the bill that would have required distilleries and breweries to sell 80 percent of their product through wholesalers. That provision, a distiller tells us, would have been a much bigger deal than the cocktail issue.
Still, Wool does pack a pretty mean rap game.
That’s the tentative date we’re hearing people expect things to be done–or at least done enough that legislators and key staff can start thinking about going home.
A fire struck a downtown Juneau building this week, displacing lobbyists Frank Bickford and Ted Popely among other apartments and businesses. We’ve heard that word going around is their shared office only suffered smoke damage, which should be no big deal because, as was pointed out to us, the two represent the tobacco industry.
— Les Gara (@RepLesGara) April 16, 2018
As the campaign season gets underway, we’re hearing more and more discussion about the way boys’ club that is Alaska political campaigning–in particular the overlooking of the many talented and experienced women in politics (there’s particular attention on how Gov. Bill Walker’s campaign is taking shape).
We’d like to hear from women who’ve been involved in Alaska’s political campaigns and their experiences. You can reach out to me directly and off-the-record at [email protected] (or on Twitter). We’re interested in hearing your experience in the campaign world and would like to give you an opportunity to speak off-the-record in an upcoming post akin to our legislator tell-all edition of Friday in the Sun. Stay tuned.
Initiative-buster likely dead
This week we wrote about how the Senate transformed Rep. Jason Grenn’s House Bill 44 into an initiative-buster that would have knocked the Government Accountability Act initiative, which Grenn and The Midnight Sun Publisher Jim Lottsfeldt are backing, off this year’s ballot.
The bill is currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee where, surprise, it’s run into opposition by chair Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole. In a normal session, that’d be the end of the bill, but Coghill’s already been overridden once (or is it three times when one override moves three bills?) so there’s a distinct possibility the bill could still find new life.
We’ve since heard that it’s likely dead for good.
Kotzebue Rep. John Lincoln has filed a letter of intent to run for election for his seat this year. That makes him the second of this session’s three appointees the file a letter of intent with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, filed a letter of intent at the end of March.
The Legislature’s most recent appointee Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel, has not yet filed a letter of intent.